Mother and Baby Home campaigner claims she was 'harangued' by members of Government

The email, seen by the Irish Examiner, said the law was "denying people who faced untold abuse and trauma the right to their own personal data."
Mother and Baby Home campaigner claims she was 'harangued' by members of Government

Majella Connolly (front), an adoptee from the St Patrick's Mother and Baby Home in Dublin, joins protesters outside Aras an Uachtarain, Dublin, after President Michael D Higgins signed the Bill into law. Picture: James Ward/PA Wire

A prominent campaigner for the unsealing of the Mother and Baby Homes records says she and others have been "harangued" by members of the government.

A number of Fianna Fáil TDs and representatives have accused some of those supporting the unsealing of the Mother and Baby Home records of "fake news" and "exploiting the situation".

Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe recently wrote on social media that Sinn Féin have been "putting paid advertising out on this and infiltrating survivor support groups. If they had been more and responsible with their information we wouldn't have this huge upset."

In response to the allegation of Sinn Féin's paid advertising, campaigner Claire McGettrick said on social media that the campaign was conceived of by her, and (campaigners) Katherine O'Donnell and Maeve O'Rourke, adding Sinn Féin had "had no role in its operation".

"Fianna Fáil et al are assuming there are third parties out there manipulating survivors whereas the email campaign was conceived of by the three of us, there were no third parties whatsoever. This is a campaigning method we have used twice before.

"It's deeply concerning to see ministers and TD coming out with disparaging remarks, defamatory remarks about ourselves.

"We organised that email campaign and a Government Junior Minister is now writing to people saying this is ‘repulsive’ and run by ‘very nasty people’ who are peddling ‘fake news’. I am also an adopted person affected by this issue.

Protesters outside Aras an Uachtarain, Dublin. Picture: James Ward/PA Wire
Protesters outside Aras an Uachtarain, Dublin. Picture: James Ward/PA Wire

"Our work is being called into question because of the allegation that people are being hoodwinked, but they never say what this ‘misinformation’ is precisely. We work under strict ethical protocols. Our work is peer-reviewed, public and transparent. There is absolutely no question of manipulating people into signing up. The issues are explained very clearly in our materials. Since these criticisms have come, starting with Senator Barry Ward, we've been inundated with survivors and adopted people saying they can make up their own minds.

 “It's really sinister, we've clearly rattled the cages of those in power by enabling people to voice their concerns, and that's the crucial part of this, if you've been subjected to a human rights violation, it's not easy to speak up.”

"Survivors are getting harangued on social media by members of Government with all sorts of allegations.

"This is wrong. We work with all parties and none, there has been no infiltration, Fianna Fáil know this, Niall Collins knows this. It's a bit rich for Fianna Fáil to on the one hand call a halt to the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill in 2019 on the basis of emails received while they were in opposition then when they're in power to cast aspersions on emails from the exact same people."

Sinn Féin have confirmed to the Examiner they have not paid for any advertising related to the campaign.

Niall Collins, the Fianna Fáil representative for Limerick replied to an email over the weekend he had received along with area TDs Patrick O'Donovan and Richard O'Donoghue from a Limerick constituent concerned by the controversial legislation passed in the Dáil last week.

Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins at Leinster House on Kildare Street, Dublin.
Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins at Leinster House on Kildare Street, Dublin.

The email, seen by the Irish Examiner, said the law was "denying people who faced untold abuse and trauma the right to their own personal data."

Mr Collins replied saying: "The choice we faced last week was pass the legislation and preserve the database of information, which will be available once further legislation has passed in the coming months, or allow the database be deleted or destroyed forevermore.

"These are the facts. There is a repulsive online campaign where some very nasty people are exploiting this situation and the vulnerabilities of some.

"Please do not let the online trolls and bullies peddle their fake news and lies unchecked."

The email comes days after Fianna Fáil senator Lisa Chambers said the bill had been "politically hijacked" by Sinn Féin, and senator Erin McGreehan emailed her party colleagues saying there was a "campaign of vested interests trying to make a commodity" from the Mother and Baby Home Commission.

Mr Collins said his reply was sparked by online abuse he and colleagues have received.

"I've never in my life been subjected to such an online hate campaign," he said.

"I've been called a scumbag, a bastard, people have said: 'I hope you die. I hope you get Covid - watch your back'.

"I really think that people who are directing this abuse at public reps should inform themselves and should consider what they're saying.

"It's unprecedented and it's being politically orchestrated for political purposes, look at who is pushing this."

When asked who was politically motivated, Mr Collins said the opposition "for both" to win votes and rile up the public against the government, and that people should study who are orchestrating the campaign.

"There's a political agenda here, all these people are politically motivated, the opposition are exploiting the situation."

Social Democrat TD Gary Gannon said: "It's absolutely pathetic, a Trump level of willful ignorance being demonstrated by Fianna Fáil.

"They have misread the mood of the public and got it wrong, it's an old style of politics to feel superior to the people you're supposed to legislate on behalf of.

Gary Gannon TD during a Social Democrats press brieifing at Leinster House on Kildare St Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Gary Gannon TD during a Social Democrats press brieifing at Leinster House on Kildare St Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

"Niall Collins and (Justice Minister) Helen McEntee need to come down off their high horse, the people orchestrating this campaign are human rights campaigners, these are not shadowy figures, we know their names.

"I was bought into this campaign years ago by (campaigner and solicitor) Maeve O'Rourke, and it was the greatest privilege of my life, there are no shadowy hands here.

"There are no political motivations and if you believe that, it's pathetic.

"Their way of their politics is dying out, we're not going away.

"We're not going to accept the secrecy and the manner in which the parts of our dark history are being covered up.

"They can get in the sea as far as I'm concerned."

Green Party representatives have for the most part remained quiet on the issue, however one email seen by the Irish Examiner from Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Green Party councillor Daniel Dunne said:

Ruth Coppinger, former Solidarity TD and socialist activist wearing a face mask ties little babies shoes to a sign while Mother and Baby Home protest event at Aras an Uachtarain gate in Dublin on a bank holiday Monday. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/ RollingNews.ie
Ruth Coppinger, former Solidarity TD and socialist activist wearing a face mask ties little babies shoes to a sign while Mother and Baby Home protest event at Aras an Uachtarain gate in Dublin on a bank holiday Monday. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/ RollingNews.ie

"I can't recall a Minister being attacked so unfairly in many decades, with a simplistic and cartoonish account somehow associating him with a conservative backlash."

He added: "Since you have a low bar for taking insult on other's behalf, the insinuation that the government is trying to "bury history", in a matter as serious as this, is both egregious and insulting. I would not blame survivors for being confused and upset by the misleading nature of much of the debate surrounding last week's bill."

The Bill was passed in the Dáil last week by 78 votes to 67, and by 22 votes to 16 in the Seanad and will oversee the transfer of a database of 60,000 adoption records compiled by the commission to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

The rest of the records are set to be sealed for 30 years, however, the Data Protection Commissioner has told the Examiner that this would be in breach of GDPR.

While many survivors say the sealing of the records is against their wishes and would deny them access to their own personal data.

As of Tuesday morning, an Uplift petition to "Repeal the Seal" had 177,295 signatures.

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